In the face of international conventions protecting children from exploitation, Bolivia’s new labour law seeks to regulate rather than eliminate the practice.
Instead of clamping down on child labour, Bolivia has passed a bill lowering the legalised age from 14 to 10. The new law directly contradicts the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 138 and 182 that set the minimum age and define the worst forms of child labour.
Bolivian officials argue that the law helps protect children by enforcing rules that employers must follow when putting children to work. Without the law the say that child labour will continue without oversight and unsafe working conditions.
The new law
Under the new law, child labourers between the ages of 10 and 12 must be supervised by parents and cannot be employed by a third party. However, children amongst this age group are permitted to work independently.
From the ages of 12 to 14, children can hold contract work for a maximum of six days per week, but their employment must be approved by a parent or guardian.
One significant component of the law states that children must remain in school, and work cannot interfere with their education. However, the sheer number of child labourers makes the implementation of the reforms incredibly difficult.
Is child labour safer as a result?
The latest figures show that 850,000 children work in Bolivia and only 78 inspectors are charged with monitoring them. This leaves 10,897 child labourers under the watchful eye of each inspector.
A 2013 report by the US Department of Labour showed that 20 percent of Bolivian children aged 7 to 14 worked. Although significant, the number of child labourers was three times higher in 2008.
Children find work in various domains, ranging from rural jobs such as farming, herding sheep, working on family farms to harvesting sugar cane, to city employment like shoe shining, and for teenagers work in silver mines.
All children should be in school
In a letter sent to Bolivian President Evo Morales in January 2014, Education International (EI) asked that he not support the bill and honour the commitments Bolivia made to ILO conventions.
Education International called on the President to ensure that all children be in school instead of the work place. The rules stating that children between the ages of 10 and 12 be allowed to work but must be in school, do not meet the standards supported by EI.
Photo 1: By Alberto (Flickr: Shoe-Shine Boy) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 2: UNESCO